Over the weekend, someone tweeted a homophobic question implying that kids shouldn't have gay teachers. But from the ashes of that idiotic tweet rose a flawless response from author John Scalzi. Scalzi's post about his gay teacher, Keith Johnson, is a beautiful remembrance of an inspiring man. For those who read it, it's sure to call to mind memories of those amazing teachers who end up shaping the lives of students long after they leave the classroom.
In a since-deleted tweet, one Twitter user wrote, "As a straight male, how would u feel about your child having a homosexual school teacher?! Who their around 8hours a day !" (Apparently, this particular user never learned empathy or grammar.) In another world, perhaps, this tweet would have just sat there, another bit of hateful detritus on the internet, but in this world, award-winning science fiction author John Scalzi saw it. As he told Romper via email, he "LITERALLY rolled his eyes," and then tweeted the following response:
As a straight male, the best teacher I ever had was a gay man. Among many other things, he taught me the difference between "there," "their" and "they're." His name was Keith Johnson. I would have been absolutely delighted for my daughter to have known him. I sang at his funeral.
And Scalzi didn't stop at firing off the perfect tweet. Once he saw that his tweet had started to get some traction ("an early morning retweet from J.K. Rowling will do that," he told Romper), he went ahead and wrote a whole blog post about Johnson.
In the post on Scalzi's website, titled "Meet Keith Johnson," Scalzi talks about how he had Johnson for sixth grade back in 1980, at a time when gay slurs were casually flung around on the playground, and it wasn't necessarily safe to be out. Scalzi didn't know that Johnson was gay at the time, but what he did know was that Johnson was a "legendary" teacher who turned out to be incredibly influential.
Scalzi wrote in his blog post that, despite Johnson's reputation for being strict:
He was in fact kind and attentive, and more to the point, he saw each of his students in the way teachers are supposed to, and the way the best of teachers do, seemingly by reflex. He saw us, and saw our quirks and flaws, where we needed encouragement and also what kind of encouragement we would need.
At a time when Scalzi's home life had turned tumultuous, as he shared in the post, Johnson encouraged him, and set him on the path to becoming a successful writer. The two kept in touch for years after Scalzi left Johnson's class and when Johnson died of AIDS, Scalzi sang at his funeral.
Now, years later, Scalzi is honoring him in a different way. As he told Romper, he is delighted by the response to his tweet and to his full essay. He wrote, via email:
Right now Twitter tells me that 3.6 million people have read my original tweet, and thousands more have come to my site to read my longer piece. That means that, if only for a moment, a group of people roughly the size of the city of Los Angeles know that Keith Johnson existed and that he was a good man and a wonderful teacher. And so many others, in the tweets and in the essay comments, have talked about their own teachers, some gay, some not, who meant so much to them in their life. It's a testament to what we already know, which is that good teachers matter, and great teachers stay with you your entire life.
As some pointed out on Twitter, things have gotten much better for gay people in this country since Scalzi was in Johnson's class. Still, the struggle for equality is far from over (especially now that the Trump administration has taken steps to roll back important protections, as Slate reported), and so it's no wonder that Scalzi's piece is resonating with many.
As Scalzi pointed out to Romper, Johnson taught him all kinds of lessons. He wrote via email:
Knowing Keith Johnson, and knowing his fundamental decency as a human, made a difference to me when I was much younger, when people would ignorantly spew hate at gays and lesbians, bisexuals and trans people. It wasn't Keith's job to model decency to me, but he did and because he did, I knew lies and hatred when I saw them. It mattered then, it matters now, and it will continue to matter going forward.
May all children be lucky enough to have teachers like Keith Johnson. Go read Scalzi's full piece and then, if you've had a Johnson-esque teacher in your life, start singing their praises.
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